How to Control Conversations

Have you ever been in a conversation where all you want is out of that conversation? Or what about a conversation you were hoping to have that turns into a yak attack about everything BUT what you needed to discuss? There are ways to make sure you don’t find yourself there. Leading a conversation is a great skill, and here’s how to do it.

Firstly, I’ll acknowledge that most of my ideas on this topic (and most others for that matter) have come from the books I’ve read. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” would be the first one I’d point you to if you ask where to start. Influence is something that every great salesman, parent, entrepreneur and leader in any field has. Without it, it’s hard enough to get people to listen, let alone get people to talk about what you want them to. 

The first step towards influence and control of conversation is to listen. If you don’t listen to others, they won’t listen to you, but beyond that annoying fact is another equally as important fact. If you don’t listen, you have no idea what’s driving the other person. You need to know why they say the things they do. You need to know what they care about and at least a bit about who they are. Everything they say is a clue into who you’re actually talking to, so listen up. Of course, this is easier with people you know and interact with on a regular basis. Really, how hard is it to know what your family members and close friends are going to want to talk about? With people you know, it can be easier to be more direct. On the other hand, knowing certain tendencies, you may know that being direct is the last thing you should be. That being the case, if you don’t know someone’s tendencies, it would be a good idea to find out as much as you can about them before taking full control.

One of the best ways, if not the best way to get good opportunities to listen and find out what you’re working with is to ask questions. If you want to start having better conversations, start asking questions. Asking questions will almost always lead you to finding out a lot about someone and what they care about. People will respond differently to topics they care for or don’t care for. When they start to ramble, ask more about it. To them, you are the most fascinating person in the world, as long as you’re talking about something they care about (usually themselves). Asking questions also takes the onus off of you to discuss anything in particular. Your conversation can surround whatever you want as long as you ask about it. However, it’s important to recognize whether responses are getting deeper and longer or shorter and shallower.

Invariably, conversations will go off topic. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, but when it does, it’s just a matter of redirecting it back through leading questions. This is the best way to change a subject too. If you’ve gotten too far into a rabbit hole you don’t want to be in, ask about something else entirely unrelated. You know you’ll get into those conversations these days too since everyone has a strong opinion about something they’re just dying to tell you about. 
Remember, you need to know a bit about the person to know what kind of question will work in a case like this, so do be thoughtful when redirecting someone’s attention. It can’t be a random question because the answer will shortly wither out, die, and you’ll be right back to the old topic.

It’s a matter of caring deeply about who someone is and what makes them tick. The more you know about someone, the more you can easily steer a conversation wherever you’d like it to go. It’s a bit ironic isn’t it? In order to best serve yourself in communication, you must sincerely care for who you’re talking to. You have to actually listen intently to be able earn the influence you need to take control and make the point you need to.

Life is too short to talk only of the weather, the game last night and politics. Get to your point, but do so by getting to know people. Be curious and learn about others, and watch your ability to influence grow. If you’re ever in a conversation you don’t want to be or struggling to join one you want to be in, start asking questions and you’ll see what I mean. Our world needs more people who ask and listen, because those are the ones who change it for the better.

- Cody